Splinter Cell Chaos Theory
There are several problems inherent with making a series of games. Most important is that you continue to improve your product and not rely on the glories of previous iterations. When Ubisoft's Splinter Cell first appeared on the Xbox it was hailed as a breakthrough for the stealth genre and a real shot in the arm for Microsoft's attempt on Sony's console crown. Two games later and millions of gamers have become accustomed to the ideas that were once so fresh. So what can Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory offer to improve a familiar structure?
Continuing the dangerous exploits of secret agent Sam Fisher, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory offers a brand new storyline and two player co-operative mode to it's arsenal. For a series based on the works of Tom Clancy, story has never been a strong point of the Splinter Cell repertoire and Chaos Theory is no different. Your average techno-thriller set in the near future, Japan has created the ISDF (Information Self Defense Force) which worries China and North Korea to such an extent that they respond . No more needs to be said as Splinter Cell isn't famous for it's plot but rather the intense gaming sensation of being a spy behind enemy lines. An indeterminate number of films and games have attempted to place the general public in the position of a one man army, infiltrating enemy facilities and saving the day. None have done it as well as Splinter Cell.
Much like Solid Snake, Fisher has begun carrying a knife in addition to his normal firepower options for that authentic stealth appearance. The knife can be used to quitely stab an enemy and also replaces the choke hold as a grabbing technique, although Fisher can't slit throats - something that fits comfortably with the bloodless combat in the game but not with normal contact between sharp edges and flesh. Lack of the red stuff aside, the knife doesn't add a whole lot to Chaos Theory, becoming an aesthetic change more than a gameplay addition. Fisher's character moves even more realistically this time around, with several new animations that offer great variety and options in disposing of unwanted company but sadly most of the time you'll stick to the tried and tested. As the series has evolved there has become litlle difference between filling an enemy with hot lead and simply knocking him out. Now this isn't a major thing but there surely should be some kind of gameplay incentive in place to differentiate the action and reward a skillful gamer, as it is your better off conserving ammo.
In all there are ten standard missions taking place in various hotspots around the globe as you respond to actions in the various scripted events. All of the usual activities are required from picking locks to hacking computers, much of it is too familiar and repetitive leaving you wonder whether Chaos Theory has been rushed out as a final hoorah on the current consoles. Whilst the Xbox version has improved graphically the PS2 port suffers heavily in comparison by being far too dark with a slow framerate and underwhelming visuals. It's hard not to grow disillusioned at the repetitve gameplay and relative ease with which you can progress. Charging in all guns blazing is now the first option and with so much space between enemies, crawling around just takes too long.
There is a saving grace though and that is the two player co-operative mode. In it you follow the path of two unnamed Third Echelon agents (the group Fisher works for) as they attempt to track down a black market profiteer. These few missions go on away from Fisher's story, creating in essence two different games. The four levels on offer are customised for co-operative play and you must make full use of teamwork if you are to succeed at over coming obstacles, guards and various traps that litter the environments. Unfortunately this section is very short, taking no more than a night to complete with two competent players. Leaving a sense of 'if only they'd done more' and a disappointment at the lack of value. New and fun but terribly brief. The other multiplayer options are fairly good value with versus really standing out as a laugh and a decent reason to go back to the game.
Graphically the game is a let down, poor visuals are made worse by the whole game being so dark - defeating the original appeal of the series as you run past squads of soldiers without effort. Detail is awkward to make out and there really is nothing new or appealing about Chaos Theory. The sound is fair with a new ambient noise level meter giving an indication of the various background noises and a reason for added effects. Not that his saves a game that seems to have over stayed it's welcome on the current platforms.
Reviewed by Owen Jones © 2005